La Grande Bellezza: Rome & A Day Trip to the Villa D’Este

One of our favorite parts of planning a trip to Rome now is checking Airbnb for all the marvelous apartments where we can plant ourselves on a new street and imagine we are Romans, too.  The city is absolutely teeming with great places under $100 a night.

We love the Ostiense neighborhood and usually start our Airbnb search is this neighborhood.   I was eyeing this cozy apartment on the Aventine hill with three terraces.  Then Jim found a spacious and stylishly appointed loft listed as ‘Big Loft in Piramide.’ We were sold, not only on the loft’s beautiful light, but also its proximity to the Eataly Roma, the largest Eataly in the world. The loft space is filled with photographs and an impressive collection of books on photography and design.  We lingered on a Sunday morning drinking cappuccino with our biscotti and listening to the church bells in the distance.  So good to find such a lovely home away from home. 

Airbnb Rome_Big Loft Piramide_living room

‘Big loft in Piramide’ on Airbnb

When we arrived, we were met by Nicola, the brother of Costantino, a photographer and journalist, who is listed as the host on Airbnb.  They co-own the loft and share the hosting duties.  Nicola showed us how to work the washer and dryer, how to sign in as a guest on Netflix, how to lock the gate, etc.  We liked him so much we invited him to contact us when he and Costantino were visiting New York shortly after.  We were charmed even more by these two when we met them in NYC.  They told us more about renovating the space and doing a lot of the work themselves. They noted that many Romans are moving to the Ostiense neighborhood from central Rome, because it’s just so livable — less noise, more space, great transit connections, and absolutely great food.   

We reported in our last post how the Ostiense area has become a foodie haven with its proximity to so many great restaurants and food shops.  This time we made multiple visits to Eataly, just because it was so convenient to where we were staying.  Passing through the Ostiense train station provides a short cut to Eataly we took numerous times, once for a marvelous lunch in the Birreria and other times to bring home enticing groceries to prepare in the loft’s well appointed kitchen. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the loft to Eataly depending on your pace.  Jim loves good craft beer and Eataly Roma has one of the largest selections we’ve found anywhere. 

Eataly Roma_lunch Birreria

‘Lo Strolghetto’ organic burger at Eataly Roma’s Birreria

We had excellent burgers at Eataly’s Birreria, mine an organic beef burger topped with  stracciatella cheese— the only red meat I’ve had in months and a cheat that was well worth it.  Jim opted for the equally delicious vegetarian burger, made from tomino langherino, a kind of Robbiola cheese, with chicory sauce and roasted peppers.  Of course, we accompanied our burgers with the excellent Italian craft beers on tap.

Exterior_Big Loft Piramide Roma

Inside the gated area of the loft

One of the things that makes this loft special is that if you have a car, this ground level apartment is surrounded by a gated patio, allowing you to lock your car inside.  We didn’t have a car, so we used the gated space as a personal terrace for enjoying cappuccino in the morning sun and prosecco in the evening. The proximity to train tracks didn’t disturb us at all.  In fact, we were surprised how few trains we heard passing, and we appreciated having easy access to the Ostiense train station which allows direct access to Fiumicino Airport. Perfetto!


Refreshments by the Pantheon on my 50th birthday trip

We’ve been to Rome many times, including a fabulous trip to celebrate my 50th birthday.  We never miss visiting my two favorite shops in Rome— the Moriondo & Gariglio Confetteria and the Fabriano boutique.  We have a tradition of Jim buying me wonderful chocolates —then we continue wandering Roman streets in the historic center we know and love.

At Moriondo e Gariglio, you are met with the strong scent of chocolate as soon as you walk into the shop.  I’ve been coming to this family business for decades, and it’s one of those stops that makes Rome truly feel like ‘the eternal city.’ This time we were lucky enough to meet Piera, who has run the stop for more than 50 years, and her son, Attilo, who looks forward to managing the family business for ‘the next 30 years.’ 

Piera & Attilio

Attilio and Piera at the shop

We always leave with a stylish red box filled with the most delicious chocolates.


Buonissimo! Moriondo & Gariglio chocolate made on the premises

After buying our chocolate, we amble on to the Pantheon, eventually making our way to the Piazza Navona.  Along the way, we usually stop at Jim’s favorite spot for pizza and great shops for home design.  We peer into the windows at the specialty garment shops where priests and nuns do their shopping.  We see beautiful red slippers in the window every year.  The route is a familiar pleasure.

Jim and Mary Robertson_Rome

Posing with the fountains on the Piazza Navona

From there, we might go to the Palazzo Altemps, a wonderful art collection in a 15th-century palace housing a top notch collection of Greek and Roman sculpture and Renaissance artworks.  Or we continue exploring the shops around the piazza including many shops for vintage fashion, handmade paper, elaborately crafted toys and so much more.

I have a fetish for stationery and pens, which is why I never leave Rome without my suitcase filled with treasures from the Fabriano boutique.  The Fabriano name has been synonymous with fine quality paper for centuries.  The current offerings couldn’t be more stylish or luxurious — fine papers and beautiful accessories for using and carrying paper.   It’s a wonderful shop to buy imaginative gifts for children. 


Pencils and notebooks from Fabriano’s offerings for children

Fabriano is located on the very stylish via del Babuino, connecting the Spanish steps with the Piazza del Popolo.  If we go in the direction of Piazza del Popolo, we often go up into the Borghese Gardens for a stroll , the wonderful public gardens we think of — as New Yorkers — as the Central Park of Rome.  We take our time, stopping for an expresso or a prosecco and – poof! – there goes another memorable day in Rome.

We love cities.  So it’s always a tough call — spend another day touring one of the world’s greatest cities or take one of the many enticing day trips that Rome offers?    Last September we so enjoyed our visit to Castel Gandalfo.  This year we opted for another garden visit — the Villa D’Este in Tivoli, renowned for its splendid fountains built in the 16th century— more than 200 of them!

Before you access the magnificent gardens, take time for the Villa itself, a Renaissance gem filled with room after room of marvelously intricate mannerist frescos.  As you make your way through the villa, there are many splendid views of the spectacular fountains below. 

Villa D'Este_fresco detail

Dove detail from one of the Villa’s frescoes painted in the 1560s

The Villa D’Este was built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, a wealthy aristocrat who had aspirations of becoming the Pope.  Beginning around 1560, he spend much of his fortune making the Villa opulent enough to entertain the notable guests of the day and installing lavish and ingeniously designed fountains in his garden.

The garden contains hundreds of fountain jets — marvels of hydraulic engineering coupled with witty and expressive stone carvings that would become hugely influential in the garden design of the period. 

Villa D'Este_garden fountains

Villa D’Este fountains

Fountain_Villa D'Este

Garden grottoes — Villa D’Este

Villa D'Este panorama

There are two world heritage sites in Tivoli.  We considered also trying to visit Hadrian’s Villa, but the Villa D’Este was so inviting, we chose to linger among the cool spray of the fountains.  The garden is simply too beautiful not to linger.   We literally ‘stopped to smell the roses’  and it was just as a vacation should be. 

Life in the slow lane.  Roma non fu fatta in un giorno.

Links to help plan your visit:

Stay —  Costantino’s Big Loft in Piramide on Airbnb:

Interior_big loft piramide_Roma

The spacious living area in the loft

Nicola and Costantino’s picks for delicious and affordable eats:

Hostaria da Enzo — via Ostiense 36 —

Cacio e Cocci — Via del Gazometro, 36 —

Trappizzino — Via Giovanni Branca 88 —


Eataly Roma

Eataly Roma_shopping haul

Our shopping haul from Eataly Roma

Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio —

Fabriano —

Plan your day trips from Rome here:

The official site of the Villa D’Este:

See more images of Costantino’s loft and the Villa D’Este below:

Airbnb_Rome_Big Loft Piramide

Bedroom area with club chair at the loft

Eataly Roma_Facade

Eataly Roma, across the train tracks, from the loft’s garden wall


Mannerist fountain_Villa D'Este

Renaissance carved spout at the Villa D’Este 

Garden pools_Villa D'Este

Reflecting Pool — Villa D’Este 

See more images and video from the Villa D’Este in our Instagram Stories highlights:

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